Why Hasn't ISIS Destroyed This Ancient City?

No looting or widespread damage in Syria's Palmyra ... yet
By Jenn Gidman,  Newser Staff
Posted May 29, 2015 8:50 AM CDT
Why Hasn't ISIS Destroyed This Ancient City?
In this image made from a militant video posted on YouTube on Tuesday, May 26, 2015, smoke rises behind archaeological ruins in Palmyra, Syria.   (Militant video via AP)

(Newser) – The ancient Syrian city of Palmyra was overrun by ISIS last week, but while most expected the militants to loot and destroy, the group has been uncharacteristically calm, the New York Times reports. According to residents, ISIS members started "acting like municipal functionaries" after taking over the city, the newspaper notes, including getting utilities up and running and even giving out free bread. They also appear to be trying to curry favor with residents by sympathizing with Palmyrans' plight in surviving government airstrikes. But most notably, they've left the city's remarkable millennia-old ruins intact, even posting a short video on YouTube earlier in the week that shows them undamaged, the Independent notes. "We will not touch [the city's monuments] with our bulldozers as some tend to believe," a self-identified ISIS leader in Palmyra said in a radio broadcast Wednesday, per the Times.

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Not that it's been a completely benign takeover: Reports have filtered in from the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights that citizens were herded into an ancient amphitheater and made to watch the executions of 20 men accused of fighting for Assad's regime, the Independent reports. Soldiers and pro-government civilians have also been killed and their corpses dumped in the streets, residents tell the Times. And ISIS militants have gone into the city's museum and destroyed plaster statues, the newspaper notes; the man who calls himself the ISIS commander said that "what we will do is to pulverize statues that the miscreants used to pray for," NBC News reports. (Read more ISIS stories.)

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